Tag Archives: idf

Israeli Army can’t provide me evidence of flotilla’s violent plans, story unravels (Updated)

Israelis woke up on June 27 to a front page Jerusalem Post story claiming flotilla passengers planned violence against soldiers. The story has completely unraveled.

Israelis woke up to a front page Jerusalem Post story claiming flotilla passengers planned violence against soldiers. The story has completely unraveled.

Update: Neues Deutschland reported that chief army spokesperson Avital Liebovich claimed Israel infiltrated the US boat to Gaza with naval intelligence agents, who relayed the IDF with a report of the passengers’ violent intentions. The passengers denied the claim as baseless and hysterical. The ludicrous nature of Liebovich’s claim is underscored by my interview (below) with the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, where she works. A robot translation of the ND article is here.

On June 27, the Israeli army released a highly suspect claim that passengers on the flotilla planned to kill and maim Israeli soldiers. The claim looks like yet another anti-flotilla hoax emanating from Israeli government channels.

Today, I reached an official from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit after placing several calls and an email to the office requesting proof to support the army’s claim. The official was unable to supply me with one piece of evidence. Instead, she said, “Basically there’s a trust between the IDF and reporters. And like in any other army, you know, a senior IDF source says something, people are inclined to believe it because this is somebody high up, this is somebody that has a lifetime of experience and credibility and this is like any other army.”

When I asked why anyone would report such a claim without seeing any firm evidence, the army spokesperson said, “If there were something we probably would give it but because of sensitivities we can’t expand further.”

Listen to the whole interview here:

Despite an apparent lack of evidence, the army’s disinformation found its way into top Israeli newspapers through a select group of military correspondents including the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz. Katz reported that flotilla passengers planned to kill Israeli soldiers and that they were bringing “bags of sulfur” to attack the soldiers. “This is a chemical weapon, and if poured on a soldier it can paralyze him,” an unnamed army source told Katz. “If the sulfur is then lit on fire, the soldier will light up like a torch.” Yedioth Aharanot’s Hanan Greenberg also reported, “IDF fears flotilla activists will try to kill Israeli soldiers.” And Haaretz hyped the claim in Hebrew.

Today, the army’s story was exposed as disinformation. First, Yedioth Aharonot military correspondent Alex Fishman reported, “There is no information that there is going to be a group of radicals on board that will form a hard core of violent resistance against IDF soliders. Nor is there any clear information about live weapons that will be on board the ships.” Then, a group of Israeli government ministers accused the army of “media spin” and “public relations hysteria” for claiming the flotilla passengers planned to attack soldiers with chemical weapons.

And now, an Israeli army official (who curiously did not want to give me her name) has refused to supply me with any evidence to support the army’s wild claims. As I wrote during Israel’s disinformation spree in the wake of last year’s flotilla, nothing the Israeli army says can be trusted. Unfortunately, many reporters still accept the army’s claims on trust, while others do not even bother to investigate.

On Israeli Memorial Day, Suicide, Fratricide And Accidents Remain Top Causes Of Soldier Deaths

Despite declaring an "all-out war" on suicide, the Israeli army saw the rate rise in 2010

Despite declaring an "all-out war" on suicide, the Israeli army saw the epidemic rise in 2010

On Israel’s Memorial Day observances for “fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks,” the Defense Ministry’s commemoration unit claimed that 183 Israelis “were killed in the line of duty or in terror attacks since last year’s Remembrance Day,” according to YNet. The number appears to represent a wild exaggeration that is inconsistent with past statistics documenting the number of Israeli soldiers killed annually in combat operations versus those who died by suicide or in accidents. In recent years, suicide has been either the leading cause or among the leading causes of deaths in the Israeli army.

While I was having lunch in Tel Aviv last summer with my friend Ruth Hiller, a founder of the Israeli anti-militarization group New Profile, she told me that around 50 percent of Israelis buried in military cemeteries had died through suicide, accidents or fratricide. I asked my roommate at the time, Yossi David, a left-wing Israeli blogger who had served in occupied Hebron, if Hiller’s figures were accurate. “All I know is that there were two suicides a month in my unit during training,” David said. “It happened all the time.”

In 1989, the Israeli army’s personnel department put the rate of suicides at 35 a year. By 2003, during the height of the Second Intifada, 43 Israeli soldiers died by suicide, making it the leading cause of death in the army. By 2010, suicide was on the rise again. During the first seven months of the year, 19 soldiers had killed themselves, a ten percent spike from the previous year. That number exceeded the number of deaths that occurred that year in combat operations.

In 2008, an Israeli border policeman committed suicide in front of French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy. A young soldier shot himself last year after learning that his friend had committed suicide moments before. The phenomenon continues to plague the Israeli army despite Brigadier General Avi Zamir’s pledge in 2005 to “wage an all-out war on suicide by soldiers.”

The suicide rate has been particularly high among Ethiopian members of the Israeli army. By 1997, six years after an airlift brought the second wave of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, Ethiopian soldiers accounted for 10 percent of army suicides — but comprised only four tenths of a percent of the army. Racism was a key factor in the epidemic. One soldier’s suicide note read: “Every morning when I get to the base, six soldiers are waiting for me who clap their hands and yell, `The kushi [black] is here.’”

During Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s last major combat operation, the army suffered its largest loss of life in an accidental incident of fratricide, when a tank shell killed three members of the Golani Brigade. This year, several Israeli troops died at the Gaza border when their comrades accidentally rained mortars down on their position.

40 Israeli prison guard cadets died weeks before in the Carmel Wildfire when their bus was trapped in the flames. The cadets presumably comprised the majority of the 70 “soldiers and civilians” whom the Israeli Army spokesman claimed (via Twitter) were “killed in operational duty and terror attacks since last Memorial Day.”

A Tale Of Two Summer Camps And One Dark Future

Underprivileged Israeli teens signed up for the "summer camp of destruction"

Underprivileged Israeli teens signed up for the "summer camp of destruction"

On July 31, I published a piece about a group of high school age Israelis who helped the Israeli police level the Bedouin Arab village of al-Arakib. Since publishing the story, “The Summer Camp of Destruction,” I have received unconfirmed accounts from witnesses that the youth volunteers sang “Am Yisrael Chai,” while police bulldozers destroyed homes. Nothing is unbelievable at this point.

Based on the impressions of a friend who counsels members of the IDF and Border Police on coping with human rights violations they committed, I identified the youth volunteers as members of the Israeli police civil guard. However, their vests read “Reshet Biatachon. According to the Tarabut blog, which is published in Hebrew, the teens were working for a security outsourcing firm for minimum wage. This fact makes the story no less disturbing.

The background of the youth is perhaps more significant than the identity of the entity they were working for. Most appeared to be Mizrahi (Jews of Arab descent), while the rest appeared Ethiopian, and Russian. These are, of course, the three most marginalized, victimized groups within Jewish Israeli society, and are therefore the most inclined to prove their loyalty as front line soldiers in Border Police units battling the only caste lower than them: the Arabs.

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The Battle of Nabi Saleh: Soldiers vs. Kids

When Israeli soldiers entered the embattled Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh on July 2, they were immediately confronted by over a dozen small children. While the IDF is accustomed to firing teargas canisters, percussion grenades, rubber bullets and even live .22 caliber ammunition at adolescent boys, members of the Nahal unit and Kfir infantry brigade tasked with suppressing the weekly Nabi Saleh demonstration were frustrated by the children who surrounded and taunted them. At one point, the division commander became so upset he barked into his radio, “I need backup!”

The spectacle of seven-year-old children confronting heavily armed and visibly confused soldiers offers one of the clearest perspectives of the lopsided power dynamic that animates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also highlights the reality of life for children in the Occupied Territories. They play soccer and dodgeball between phalanxes of soldiers firing lethal projectiles at their neighbors just a few meters away — everyday life is an act of resistance.

Why are children participating in popular protests? Consider the case of Ni’ilin, a Palestinian village engaged in popular struggle against the construction of the separation wall across its privately owned land. The Israeli army is holding three members of its small popular committee — the political leadership of the village — in harsh conditions in Ofer prison. They were arrested without charges during a night raid, subjected to psychological torture by the Shabak (Israel’s General Security Service), and are being held indefinitely.

“Everyone is scared to protest now,” Saeed Amireh, a Niilin resident in his early twenties, told me. “I can participate in the demonstrations because I am single. But for those of us who have wives and children, going to jail is the worst. How can we work for our families or know what is happening with our wife if we are taken away?” Amireh had just returned from a four month stint in Ofer prison which he described as “horrible.” He is still not sure what crime he was accused of committing. “It’s bullshit,” he said. “I’m not the one doing any violence.”

During Friday’s protest in Nabi Saleh, orders could be heard blaring from soldiers’ radios to photograph some of the older (read: over 10 years old) boys participating in the protest. The photos are used to identify targets for night raids, when soldiers enter the village under cover of darkness, burst into homes and grab the young children and adolescent boys comprising the village’s shabab from their beds.

According to Lymor Goldstein, a lawyer who represents many of the Ni’ilin residents detained for joining protests, the arrested youth are immediately subjected to psychological torture by the Shabak: they are held in total darkness, fed at odd hours, threatened, and interrogated as soon as they become sufficiently scared and disoriented. “They don’t really need to beat them,” Goldstein told me during a demonstration in Niilin. “The psychological torture is so intense that almost no one can resist it.” (Goldstein confided to me that he was having trouble recalling specific names because of a rubber bullet that pierced his skull during a protest in the village of Bil’in in 2006, causing long term damage to his vision and memory. Video of the Israeli Border Police shooting Goldstein is here.)

Because grown men are particularly vulnerable to imprisonment and adolescent boys are targeted with just about any kind of violence the Israeli army wants to level against them, young children have led the Nabi Saleh demonstrations on at least three occasions. While the soldiers acted with general restraint towards the kids (Nahal is peppered with left-leaning citizen-soldiers who have been convinced they can foster “change from within” by joining a combat unit) children as young as seven have been called in for recent interrogations by the Shabak. While the Shabak called the incident a “mistake,” it is not isolated. Nora Barrows-Friedman reported last March on a 10 year old who was badly beaten during a night raid of his home by Israeli troops, then detained in a nearby settlement for 10 hours. In Nabi Saleh, a young boy was critically injured by Israeli forces in March.

On July 2, the soldiers in Nabi Saleh wound up taking their frustrations out on two Israeli activists, Yonathan Shapira and Matan Cohen, violently subduing and arresting them. Though Shapira and Cohen were baselessly accused by the IDF Spokesman’s Office of “attacking” a soldier, they were released hours after their detention.

What are Israeli soldiers doing in Nabi Saleh in the first place? The village has been besieged by its neighbors from the religious nationalist Israeli settlement of Halamish since Halamish was constructed in 1977 on land privately owned by Nabi Saleh’s residents. Recently, the settlers seized control of a fresh water spring that has belonged to Nabi Saleh since the village was built in the 19th century. In December 2009, the settlers uprooted hundreds of the village’s olive trees in an attempt to re-annex land awarded back to Nabi Saleh in an Israeli court case. Since then, farmers from Nabi Saleh have been subjected to routine attacks by settlers and prevented from working their land. The Israeli army has come down firmly on the side of Halamish, suppressing the demonstrations with disproportionate force while doing little, if anything, to prevent settler violence. But if the spirit of Nabi Saleh’s young demonstrators are any indication, the army has a long way to go before it breaks the villagers’ will.

Another IDF Claim Unravels: IDF Unable To Support Claim Of Terrorists Aboard Flotilla Ship

The IDF has distributed a press release claiming that it has evidence that five passengers on the Mavi Marmara were “active terror operatives.” The army’s claims appeared thin at best, and patently false at worst. When I called the IDF Spokesman’s Office to ask for evidence, I was told there was none; all of the IDF’s claims were attributed to “intelligence” it could not share with reporters.

“The information in the statement comes based on intelligence,” Army spokesman Sgt. Chen Arad told me. “I don’t have any further information I can give.”

I pressed Arad to at least describe the intelligence he had seen. “There is very limited intelligence information we can give in this specific case,” he said. “Obviously I’m unable to give you more information.” He referred me to a colleague at the IDF’s North American desk. She did not answer after numerous tries. I’m going to call again tomorrow; journalist Lia Tarachansky has also placed a call to a spokesman and yielded similar responses which I’ll transcribe here soon.

One of the most bizarre accusations the IDF made was that former American citizen and ex-Marine Ken O’Keefe was planning to “train a commando unit” in the Gaza Strip. That’s the same Ken O’Keefe who organized an aid boat to Gaza, Aloha Palestine, with the sister-in-law of Tony Blair, Lauren Booth. In recent days, O’Keefe has been a major presence in the international media, giving his account of the melee on the deck of Mavi Marmara. Why would Hamas want some middle aged American guy with no experience in guerilla warfare to train its elite forces? The answer is the IDF is probably trying to smear O’Keefe to discredit his withering assessment of their conduct during the flotilla raid. “All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns,” O’Keefe has declared.

Hussein Arosh was implicated by the IDF for allegedly planning to “assist in smuggling Al-Qaeda operatives via Turkey into the Strip.” This claim is highly implausible. Why would Hamas allow Al Qaida operatives into the Gaza Strip when it is actively engaged in crushing any Al Qaida sympathizers who crop up within the territory it controls. Last year, Hamas forces killed 21 members of an Al Qaida inspired group in a battle in the Gaza Strip.

Another unusual IDF accusation was that the US resident Fatimah Mahmadi is a terrorist because she is “an active member of the organization ‘Viva Palestine’” who “attempted to smuggle forbidden electronic components into the Gaza Strip.” (I think the IDF means Viva Palestina, not Viva Palestine). Viva Palestina is not registered as a terrorist group by any country in the world; it is the British parliamentarian George Galloway’s pro-Palestine outfit, which is planning to organize more aid convoys.

The IDF’s press release did not appear credible in any way. If any reporters from the Israeli press had bothered to call the IDF to demand evidence, they would have learned that there was none. At least in Israel, the media is serving as a useful tool for the army. Just look at this piece by Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer.